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Why self-evident things are not self-evident to a group

Sogeti Labs
December 25, 2019

Let’s assume that you are going to take the bus 615 to Helsinki Airport. You are not leaving from the origin station but a couple of stations later. So you take your bag and wait at the bus stop, see the bus 615 approach, get on board and ride the bus to the airport. Simple as can be.

Let’s try the same again. This time you’re travelling with your friends in a group of 10. You all know that you need to take the bus 615 to the airport from the exact same bus stop. The bus approaches and none of you lift a finger. Chances are the bus drives right past you and none of you get to the airport. Why would that happen? Because social influence affects us. If even one of you raises their hand to the bus and says out loud “that’s our bus” the group would get on the bus.

It’s easy to take governance of your actions while you are alone. However, while working on projects we very seldom do them alone and as such we are subjected to the pros and cons of group work. The most self-evident things might become not so evident if nobody takes the ball on them.

This is why we need to write down what we have agreed upon and how the team does what it does. Defining a Definition of Done is a good example. What actually is “done”? Or how about the issue tracking? What do we actually write about the issues? Are we fixing everything right now? What is the process if we push something into a later time? We might think that we all agree that we’re going to fix something in February but unless we write it down and commit to it then someone might come in January and ask “why is this not fixed”? You might reply that “it’s what we decided” and then the person asks “who decided? When did we decide this?”

In that situation, everybody loves a good paper trail.

Even the most self-evident things might become non-evident if you challenge them. Let’s say that you barge in a room of developers and ask “who is responsible for setting the age in our system as a number”? Then count the hands that actually are willing to stand behind this self-evident thing while confused.

This is why one of the best things you can do in a group is to decide things together, write them down and agree on a process. If you, later on, find out the process is not working at all, decide together to change it as well.

And lastly: remember that even if you don’t decide anything it is also a decision. Just remember to write down that you decided not to decide.

Oh, by the way: if you thought that all the above is self-evident, well…

About the author

SogetiLabs gathers distinguished technology leaders from around the Sogeti world. It is an initiative explaining not how IT works, but what IT means for business.


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